Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Attractions - Mad About the Wrong Boy (1980)


Once again, here is an album I played like crazy during my teen years that a few others seem to know existed. The idea of an Attractions album without Elvis Costello might seem alien to some, but to me these songs are so familiar it's like they're in my blood. Here is some background on this release.

In 1980, Elvis Costello's backing group recorded an album without him. The sixteen-song effort didn't get much publicity other than a few mentions in new wave magazines. That was a shame, because it's a pretty good LP with a lot of tuneful '60s-influenced songs done up in a snappy new wave style.

Although there are some similarities with Costello's albums, that's mostly because of the arrangements, particularly keyboardist Steve Nieve's synth sounds -- which will be familiar to anyone who has heard Armed Forces. But this is not "Son of Elvis." If there's an overriding influence in songwriting, it's probably Ray Davies since some of the "character study" songs like "Lonesome Little Town," "Highrise Housewife," and "Straight Jacket" seem to take their cue from Village Green-era Kinks.

More influences from that time period abound. The album contains all sorts of psychedelic elements, such as segued songs (check songs 6-8), backwards tapes ("Arms Race"), sound effects ("On the Third Stroke"), sped-up vocals (the bridge of "Single Girl"), and deliberately bizarre fade-outs ("Damage," "Lonesome Little Town"). All of this should resonate with listeners now more than it did back in 1980 when a lot of uptight post-punk types considered anything '60s-related to be something of a Mortal Sin. The LP was produced by Roger Bechirian, who had engineered albums for Costello, Squeeze, and Ian Dury, among others.

After this album, Bechirian and Costello would co-produce a similar retro-oriented new wave album in Squeeze's East Side Story. It's to the Attractions' credit that their album compares favorably to that Squeeze album, which is generally considered the band's best.

Most of the songs here were written and sung by Steve Nieve. Some of them were credited to him under that name. But others, which he co-wrote with his then-girlfriend Fay Hart, were confusingly credited to Brain/Hart -- with Nieve taking the pseudonym "Norman Brain." To people not familiar with all this (i.e. everyone who wasn't in the band), it looked like those songs were written by an outside team.

Had I not asked the band about songwriting credits when I met them after a 1983 Costello concert, I'd probably have no idea who the Brain/Hart team were. What songwriter works under two different names on the same album, after all?

But all sixteen songs here are originals. Eleven were written or co-written by Nieve and the other five were composed by bassist Bruce Thomas along with drummer Pete Thomas.

Two singles were released, with both featuring songs from the album in their original versions without edits or remixes. The first was "Single Girl" backed with "Slow Patience." That was followed by "Arms Race" backed with "Lonesome Little Town." Neither charted, but both had neat picture sleeves. "Single Girl," with its breezy shuffle and airy Association-like chorus, sounds like it could have been a British hit at the time, but it wasn't.

The album went out of print shortly after its release. It was briefly issued on CD in the early 1990s, but copies of that release now seem harder to find than the actual album. The most commonly found edition of the album is probably the Canadian release that came out on Attic Records. It was a perennial "bargain bin" item in the USA in the early 1980s (which is ironic, because now you have to pay some decent money if you want a good copy).


Technical notes:

This is a new, super-clean vinyl rip from the original LP. That means it's from the British F-Beat Records edition, not the Attic Records pressing. I've owned both and think the F-Beat one sounds better.

There was a rip circulating at one point that ran too fast. This one runs at the proper speed. This rip also has a crystal clear sound with no scratches or pops. What you hear is what was on the record. That includes weird EQ changes on some of the fade-outs and eccentric spacing between songs, which varies from cut to cut.

Track list:
1. Arms Race
2. Damage
3. Little Misunderstanding 
4. Straight Jacket
5. Mad About the Wrong Boy
6. Motorworld
7. On the Third Stroke
8. Slow Patience 
9. La-La-La-La-La Loved You    
10. Single Girl
11. Lonesome Little Town   
12. Taste of Poison
13. Highrise Housewife  
14. Talk About Me
15. Sad About Girls   
16. Camera Camera



  2. oh, thanks for this! such a classic fun album and much underrated too..

  3. Wow, I'm impressed! Thanks for this, I never knew this existed - I used to think I knew a bit too...

  4. I picked up this import used sometime and thought it was just OK. I had always read the joint songwriting credit as BRAIN/Hart which I thought was very clever.

    1. It is Brain/Hart. I have terrible vision and misread it. Thanks for the info. Corrected.